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WHAT IF?

Monday, May 22, 2017

What If 2Have you ever said, “What if?”  Some would not admit it, but a lot of us are guilty of reading our culture and traditions into the Bible rather than understanding the passage from their viewpoint. What if we made a comparison of what is recorded in scripture and paralleled it with what we usually do?  Would there be a lesson to learn?

There are three passage concerning the institution of the Lord’s supper in Matthew 26:17, 26-29; Mark 14:12, 22-25; and Luke 22:7, 15-20.  Each gives us the dialogue of Jesus stating, “I will no longer drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God” (Matthew 26:29; Mark 14:25; and Luke 22:15-16).  According to studies on the Passover, each person brought his own cup to the Passover Feast.  There were four times when these cups were filled with wine.  Matthew and Mark give us that statement being made with the fourth cup as Jesus is instituting the communion during the Passover meal.  Luke supplies more details and shows the statement was made during the third filling.  This isn’t unusual since the different accounts sometimes abbreviated what they were telling.  For example, Matthew gives us more details concerning two men among the tombs of the Gergesenes or Gadarenes, whereas Mark and Luke focus only on one.  Most of us restrict ourselves to the singular man and last cup.  What if we accepted Matthew’s two men and Luke’s two cups?  What lesson have we missed by failing to recognize what God has inspired?

The fourth mention of the Lord’s Supper is when Paul wrote to the Corinthian assembly, correcting them over their divisions (v.18), heresies, (v.19), and refusal to wait on one another or share (v.21).  He encourages them to examine themselves when they partake (vv.28-29).  Only in Acts 20:7-11 do we have the actual practice of partaking with Paul, Luke, the Troas’ members, and the rest of Paul’s companions being involved.

Since church buildings, financed by the local congregation, aren’t mentioned until the fourth century, we find “breaking of bread” taking place in the homes of members (Acts 2:46; Acts 20:7-11).  Congregations did not have a post office box nor street addresses.  They did not have church signs with a church name on it.  Yet, Luke doesn’t indicate that Paul and entourage had any problem finding this three-storied house where the brethren were meeting (Acts 20:7).  What if we met in homes as they did?  How would this be different and what would no longer be practiced if there wasn’t an auditorium to house “about three thousand” (Acts 2:41)?

They were meeting on the first day of the week, but not at the time of day which we do.  Sunday is not usually a work day for us.  It was for them.  Saturday was the day of rest for the Jewish population.  Sunday was the first day of the work week.  The Troas brethren were meeting at night.  Congregations today have Sunday night services, but most members are usually at home by 8:30 pm unless they decide to stop off at Cracker Barrel!  What if we met for one service on Sunday evening and stayed until midnight or after to break bread?  Would we?  Can you imagine what most comments were when one member first suggested that the house meetings begin at 9 am on Sunday morning?

The Troas brethren were apparently keeping Jewish time.  If so, the first day of the week began at 6:01 pm on our Saturday and continued until 6:00 pm Sunday night.  Luke tells us that they “came together to break bread.”  Paul preached to them (v.1).  Our meetings are geared more to our convenience and comfort than what those saints in this assembly in Acts 20 were doing.  A thirty-minute sermon is long for most modern disciples.  Forty-five minutes is stretching it and causes a malady called “fidgeting.”  Even if Troas began at 8 pm, Paul was just getting his second wind at midnight.  He may have preached longer if that young man had not fallen out the window (v.9)!  What if our assemblies lasted hours taking us past midnight?  Who would be the first to demand “a change”?  Would your “spirituality” be questioned if you did?

The expression “break bread” and “broken bread” are mentioned twice in the passage.  Luke informs us that they came together to break it and the second time it is mentioned after midnight.  Churches today will have a Sunday morning serving of unleavened bread and then again Sunday night for those who missed that morning.  Yet, inspiration doesn’t illustrate our convenient second serving.  It also doesn’t give us a pattern of partaking on Sunday morning.  That was started several centuries after the first one as a convenience to make things more comfortable for modern man.  What if we returned to the one evening serving illustrated in Acts 20?

The Passover Feast used unleavened loaves and wine.  Jesus used those two items to memorialize his body and blood.  In the first century families prepared the two and brought them to the assembly to share (1 Corinthians 11:17-22).  Today, as a matter of convenience we buy Matzah bread, which comes in the form of crackers or small bite size squares, and Welch’s.  Haven’t we miniaturized the communion?  What if we still prepared the loaf and each in a house meeting broke off a piece and our cup was the same size as those used by Jesus and the apostles?  Because the Corinthians would not share nor wait, some drank too much while others remained hungry due to that refusal to wait and share the unleavened bread!  What if they ate back then what we eat today during the Lord’s supper?  Wouldn’t they still be hungry?  When did we decide to change?  Was it motivated by convenience?

What if there are other lessons to be observed from Acts 20:7-11?  When the word “change” is mentioned, some are uncomfortable and consider any deviation from our modern practices to be movements away from biblical authority.  Yet look at the changes that have transpired between the first century and today.  What is interesting is that a lot of those changes which we have instituted were for our convenience and comfort!  Our changes neither make us more spiritual nor less.  What has not changed is Jesus (Hebrews 13:8).  Our relationship with him should change in only one direction.  We should grow up (1 Peter 2:2)!

PURPOSE OF OBEDIENCE?

Thursday, May 18, 2017

ObedienceWithout our assistance, God developed a plan so we could be delivered from His wrath, and be restored to His fellowship throughout eternity.  It’s called “gospel” or Good News!  Yet the devil steps in and manipulates the truth, turns it into a lie, and peddles it as “Better News.”  He has been doing it since the beginning (Genesis 3:4-5).

Most agree that one cannot buy his salvation with money, property, precious metals, his citizenship, an outstanding personality, good looks, powerful influence, family background, or even good works.  However, the devil steps in and says, “Good works of the Old Testament doesn’t pay off your sin debt, but obedience to New Testament works do.”

Deception says, “Jesus commanded immersion in water.  Obeying that command is necessary to be obedient to the Lord, but it is not essential in becoming a Christian.”  He further says, “If a person refuses to be immersed, he is refusing to obey Jesus.  By refusing to obey Jesus, he proves that he never had a valid faith, and is a pseudo Christian rather than a real one.”  He adds, “So, one is saved by faith prior to his obedience, but baptism to be obedient falls within the realm of finding a convenient time to do it.  It is necessary, but not essential.”

Most recognize that Jesus commanded immersion or baptism, so one must obey or do it.  If he doesn’t do it, it proves to God and man that he is disobedient, is not yet a true Christian, possesses a dead faith, and remains lost.  Since that is the case, a believer who has not yet been immersed is an invalidated one in the sight of God and man?  What validates him in the eyes of both is obeying the command of Jesus to be immersed!

The devil uses “necessary” and “essential” as if they are two different actions unrelated to one another.  Yet, one MUST be immersed because . . .

1) It validates his faith as not being faith only.

2) It validates his faith as being alive, not dead.

3) It validates that he is a “real” Christian rather than a “pseudo” one, and

4) Until he submits to baptism, validation of him being an actual Christian is in a “limbo    state.”

During that “limbo state,” God and man are waiting on the person to manifest his faith to see if it is a living one and if he is a real Christian or not.  What will answer that question?  Isn’t it based upon or validated by his obedience to the command to be immersed!

The devil continues his deception by shouting, “You must obey, it is necessary!  But, it is not essential to being saved, so you may put it off until a time more convenient to you, whether it is weeks or maybe Easter Sunday.”  Is that what first century folks did when they heard the Good News?  Was it this?

“Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and six weeks later on Easter Sunday about three thousand souls were added to them”?

Or this?

“Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them” (Acts 2:41 NKJV).

Was it this?

“Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house.  And he took them three weeks later and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized three weeks later”?

Or this?

“Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house.  And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized” (Acts 16:32-33 NKJV).

Deception informs us that we can put off baptism until it is convenient, but why wouldn’t that also be true concerning repentance and confession?  In scripture, when folks heard the good news, they responded the same day, even the same hour (Acts 2:41; 16:33).  An old “invitation song” used during nightly revivals was, “Why not tonight?” not “Why not several weeks from now”?  So, when did man start putting it off until later?  It wasn’t in the first century!

CAUGHT!

Monday, May 15, 2017

 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery.  In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” (John 8:3-5 NIV).

CaughtCaught”!  Talk about embarrassment?  Shame would be plastered all over her face.  Shame and fear would be struggling for dominance to see which would control her emotions!  Her sight was glued to the ground.  She could not bring herself to look at her accusers nor the one whose judgment they sought.  That pious crowd was asking the young Rabbi, “What do you say?”  She already knew the answer.  This was a biblical crowd, waiting to do the scriptural thing, to a person without Biblical authority.  Her life could be calculated in minutes not years.  “Caught”!  He had escaped, not her.  “Caught in the act of adultery.”  She didn’t have time to dress.  Her attempts to be presentable in a crowd calling for her blood was futile.  This young Rabbi would seal her fate.  She was going to die.  It was the Law and she had broken it!  She knew the consequences, yet she had taken her chances and lost.  This was the end.  Her sins had found her out and the price would be painful and permanent.

Everyone in that crowd, other than the young Rabbi, were sinners.  This included those who brought the adulteress, those already in the Rabbi’s presence, and the twelve!  The only difference between them and the woman was, they had not yet been “caught”!  The young Rabbi didn’t answer their question.  They persisted.  Yet, he did not open the Law.  He didn’t touch it top, sides, nor bottom.  He refused to counter their question with scripture.  What kind of “teacher” was he?  His only reply was, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:7 NIV). That was it!  He left the application with them.  The lesson was applied and they stopped pointing at her and vanished.  No longer judges.  Just snared in their own actions.  They were “caught” sinners, “caught” by their own thoughts!

Some think the young Rabbi let that woman off on a technicality.  Lawyers do that, don’t they?  If “technicality” is our way out when we’re caught, we have accepted the wrong solution!  Jesus did not free her because he was lazy in applying the Law.  He didn’t catch her in the act, they did.  But, “they” were no longer there to accuse her of what they witnessed.  Being convicted of their own sins, they disappeared.  Today, some believe they are ordained to be judge and jury of others, yet they haven’t been “caught” yet!  We aren’t free of guilt and may be headed toward a showdown with God’s wrath.  God is not ignorant of our sins.  We may think we have escaped, like the man in that adulteress relationship, but to think that way makes us the fool, not God!

Did that man tell his male friends about his “close call”?  Did he laugh about not being caught?  Did he learn a lesson, or just think how lucky he was and next time he would be more discreet?  It’s easy to point a condemning finger at someone else who has been “caught in the act” and never entertain the thought, “Let him without sin be first to cast a stone.”  Being in a crowd that can quote book, chapter, and verse is very comforting.  It seems so right!  It’s easy to feel more righteous than others when you haven’t been “caught”!

THAT DESTRUCTIVE EMOTION

Thursday, May 11, 2017

hateHate!?  Wow!  It’s all over the place.  You see and hear it on TV.  You read it in newspapers.  You hear it over the radio.  It is a commodity that seems popular and sells!  At least a lot of people are buying into it.  Some are so sold on it that they want to be in first place.  Can you imagine people wanting to be a better hater than you are?  It does have its merits though.  You have a headache?  Blame it on hate.  Your nerves are shot?  Blame it on hate.  Hit your “funny bone”?  Blame it on hate.  Your spouse leaving you?  Blame it on . . . well, you get the picture!  Of course, it’s even better if you can give “hate” a name.  It seems that a lot of people have.  Trump!!  Do you remember the 2004 tsunami that affected fourteen countries and killed 230,000 to 280,000 people on December 26th of that year?  Trump’s fault!  Do you remember Eve being hoodwinked by the serpent into eating the forbidden fruit in Genesis 3:1-7?  It was Trump!  From Genesis 3 to 2017, anything bad that has happened, is Trump’s fault!  He is the one that people love to hate!

Hate is a poison.  It is like acid.  It will eat you alive.  It produces stress.  Hair falls out.  Tunnel vision becomes sight.  Attention is stolen and focus degenerates.  Self righteousness is disguised as “justification.”  Extreme foolishness is created and despair is its reward.  Solomon states that hate “loves death” (Proverbs 8:36)!  Not a very rewarding finale!

Hate rewrites history and recreates reality.  Hate blames Trump with disorder while the possessors block traffic, burn cars, break windows, and loot stores.  Hate claims others are divisive while it promotes it.  Hate says free speech is being stolen as it threatens and shouts down those who practice it.  Hate cries out against racism while destroying business owned by minorities.  Hate talks about “my rights” while robbing you of yours.  Hate promotes ideologies that enslave rather than offering freedom.  Hate opens Pandora’s box then blames others for the results.  Hate is an animal that turns on its trainer and becomes the master.  Hate creates lies and peddles it as truth.  Hate attempts to destroy the character and reputation of others.  Solomon states, “Bloodthirsty men hate a man of integrity and seek to kill the upright.” (Proverbs 29:10 NIV).  They seem to be victorious, but the Psalmist states, “The future of the wicked will be cut off.” (Psalm 37:38).  Hate will implode upon the infected, labeling them as fools.

Hate!  A lot of it going around.  Yet, God still sent His Son to save the hater (John 3:16).  We all sin and fall short (Romans 3:10, 23).  We all need the Savior Jesus Christ (Acts 2:37-40).  His offer is, “Come unto me” (Matthew 11:28-30).  Why?  He loves you!  Will you reciprocate with love or hate?  Your choice!

FAILURE IN RESTORATION?

Monday, May 8, 2017

FailureWhat if you were living in the first century?  You were looking for a place to work and worship that followed the old paths.  You would not have to look far because you would be living in the premier century that produced the soundest of the sound.  Most assemblies owed their existence to an inspired individual.  Surely the Holy Spirit would inspire each gifted person with the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?  Who wouldn’t feel secure with the Holy Spirit guiding those in the pulpit, classroom, and elders’ meetings?

You locate someone that is a Christian.  You ask where the church building is located.  You receive a strange look and then a question, “What is a church building?”  You draw a mental picture of  a church building with its auditorium, pews, pulpit, Lord’s table inscribe with Luke 22:19b on it, baptistry, staff offices, classes, paved parking lot, sign out front with name and time of services, and next door, a preachers house.  He tells you he has no idea what you are describing.  He and his family meet in a member’s house with several others to be edified.  The rest of the congregation meets in small groups in over one hundred homes throughout the city.  You ask if they are sound.  He reassures you that their membership has elders and they were established by divinely inspired teachers.  He informs you that they have an abundance of Spirit gifted members.

You ask how it is possible for the elders to oversee their flock if it isn’t corralled in one building each Sunday morning, evening, and Wednesday.  He informs you that the overseers visit the different house assemblies in their daily meetings to encourage and teach.  You’ve never worshiped with a congregation that didn’t own a church building.  But, since it is the only congregation in town, you like Paul, join (Acts 9:26).  You are assigned to the nearest house assembly.  You aren’t comfortable with this “no building” philosophy and all the elders not being present in “the auditorium” on Sunday morning to oversee the flock. But, you have no other choice.

One Sunday a prophet visits one of the house assemblies and tells about a congregation up north that has members who don’t believe the dead will be resurrected.  Not only that, but they have divided into four different denominated groups.  Some say they are following Christ, Paul, Peter, or Apollos.  Each of those divisions have other spiritual problems that are just as serious.  You ask one of the overseers if the body of believers here are going to “mark” them as digressive and withdraw fellowship.  His response bewilders you!  “No, we’re going to practice patience.”  “What?  Practice patience with sin?”  Would you continue to have fellowship with those “patient” brethren?  Would you question their soundness and your worship with them?  Wouldn’t you be troubled over the question of whether your contribution implicated you in the support of sin since the elders refused to do anything?  Wouldn’t you see their “patience” as refusing to “stand for the truth”?

The saints up north were in Corinth and you are in the congregation all of the apostles belong to!  Almost every congregation had its spiritual problems in the first century.  If that wasn’t so and each was as perfect as one could possibly be, the New Testament would be a lot smaller in size.  Some had serious problems, but though correction was needed, it did not arrive overnight.  Apostles and prophets were patient.  God’s grace continued to work.  Corinth was the only one where individuals divided and formed new groups with their identifying names.  Paul gave the solution, not just for their problems, but to all of the body of Christ.  That solution was spelled agape in Greek or “love” in English (1 Corinthians 13).  Love for God and for one another.

Have we restored THAT?

JUDGMENT CALL!

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Whispering 3Sometimes referees have to make a judgment call.  That call may result in one team losing.  With the stadium divided between two sets of fans, some will charge the referee with bad judgment!

It’s easy to make a judgment.  If it wasn’t there wouldn’t be so much of it.  Jesus warned, “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged.  For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged.” Matthew 7:1-2 (NLT).  Paul added to it in Romans 2:1.

Sometimes a judgment may seem necessary.  Called for or not, the giver feels justified in offering it.  Some judgments seem so believable that any doubt appears to deny truth.  Judgments are easy to listen to.  Even easier to pass on regardless of their merit!  Jesus or Paul’s words seldom slow down the passage of such “information”!

Delivering a judgment may be added to or subtracted from with an inflection of speech, raising an eyebrow, or putting it in question form!  All is fair in what is told, especially if the news is about someone else.

Some judgments may be good.  If not, all of us would be condemned!  Jesus nor Paul are condemning judgment per se.  Paul made a judgment to proceed to Jerusalem in spite of the Holy Spirit warning him through brethren what would happen (Acts 21:4, 11-14).  We all make choices based upon our judgments which may bring a smile or frown without either being sinful.  Judgments without all the facts, which result in a lie, harming another’s reputation, falls within the parameters of Jesus and Paul’s warning.  Paul informed the Jews of the folly of judging others when they were just as guilty (Romans 2:1).  When a lie is spread as truth, each one who “gospelizes it” bears some responsibility.  Jesus and Paul warned us to be careful.  Many are unaware of the trap they set for themselves!  When a person righteously approaches an elder with “A lot of people are upset about . . .” or “I don’t want to get involved, but . . .” it should warn the informant that he is stepping into that trap!

Some form judgments due to misunderstanding what has been said.  Others may believe an incident is wrong when the error is in their perception.  Some make a statement but the hearer “stretches” it out of context going beyond what was meant.

How many of us hear something but never go to the source to see if it is true?  I once had a young preacher come to my office to see if charges made against me by some West Tennessee ministers were true.  He named off three or four things.  I did not believe nor had I taught any of them.  Those who told him never came to me.  In fact, until that young man approached me, I did not know such gossip was being circulated.  In the judgment of those preachers I was guilty of being a false teacher when I had never believed nor taught what I was charged with.  Who started it or how far it had spread I do not know.  How many heard it and continued to tell others, without checking with me, I do not know.  Even the young preacher was unsuccessful in getting it stopped!

You may think you can condemn such people, but you are just as bad, and you have no excuse! When you say they are wicked and should be punished, you are condemning yourself, for you who judge others do these very same things.” Romans 2:1 (NLT).

It’s not difficult to judge.  Each of us needs to make sure that neither Jesus’ nor Paul’s statements are directed at us!

SPECIAL DAYS?

Monday, May 1, 2017

Christmas Holly and BellsI would be the first to inform you that “Easter and Christmas are not mentioned in the Bible.”  I will admit up front that some misconceptions and errors are contained in both celebrations.  I will admit that myth and pagan roots are found in Christmas, perhaps even in Easter.  I will admit that the Easter bunny wasn’t raised by Jesus and never laid any colored eggs nor did Jesus paint any baby chicks.  I will admit that Santa Claus is not the second cousin of Jesus nor even a distant relative.  Jesus did not hire him to take presents to the world’s children who are “nice” and a piece of coal to the naughty ones.  Atheists, agnostics, and skeptics would applaud if Jesus was as “make believe” as Santa and the bunny.

I am disappointed that some cannot see the inconsistency involved in the statement, “Easter and Christmas are not mentioned in the Bible.”  Believers have been using that phrase, probably before Christmas was ever taught!  Some still claim that “’Sunday School’ or ‘Bible classes’ are not mentioned in the Bible.”  “A preacher being hired by a congregation to preach all the sermons’ is not mentioned in the Bible.”  “Singing, prayer, giving, Lord’s supper, and preaching are not mentioned as ‘worship’ in the Bible.”  The list could be endless.

It is true that none of the gospel writers tell us that a birthday cake was baked by Mary and decorated with candles to celebrate Jesus’ first and later birthdays.  But, all believers recognize that he was born (Luke 2:11)!  Matthew and Luke give us some details.  We know he was born in Bethlehem and angels announced his birth.  On the eighth day he was circumcised in Jerusalem at the temple.  Isn’t it strange that angels announced his birth, shepherds “spread the word,” Simeon and Anna proclaimed it in the Temple courtyards, and magi travelled to worship him, but we are forbidden to recognize his birth because we don’t know the exact day (Luke 2:17)?

Some argue that we cannot recognize Jesus birth being on December 25th, but may recognize his birth when partaking of the Lord’s supper.  Although I can appreciate the statement, the same silence that eliminates December 25 would also forbid a Sunday observance.  Neither are found stated in scripture.  Others claim that it is wrong to limit that recognition to one day, December 25th, but should be recognized 365 days each year.  Again, silence is deafening.  Where does it condemn a recognition of Jesus  birth to one of 365 days, but authorizes that recognition for all of them?  Again, the Bible is silent!  If silence makes it a sin for a one day recognition, that same silence would make it a sin for the other 364.  Wouldn’t atheists, agnostics and skeptics applaud that law of silence?!

If Jesus’ birth is celebrated when we partake of the Lord’s supper, which is understood to be one of five acts of worship, why not celebrate his birth in our “worship” songs?  Why don’t we sing Silent Night, Joy to the World, It Came Upon A Midnight Clear, Away in the Manager, or Hark, the Herald Angels Sing as pre-communion songs since the Lord’s supper includes recognition of his birth?  Most saints that believe it is a sin to celebrate Jesus birth on December 25th seldom if ever sing any of those songs in the other eleven months or 52 Sundays.  Why?  Don’t we believe Jesus was born?  Perhaps we believe he was born, we just don’t believe it is scriptural to openly recognize that belief?  That would make atheists, agnostics, and skeptics applaud!

For those who claim Jesus birth may not be observed on December 25th because it is of pagan origin, will admit that the birth itself is not of that origin.  Scripture foretold it in passage such as Isaiah 7:14; 9:6. Matthew and Luke proclaimed it (Matthew 1:1-25; 2:2-23; Luke 1:26-38; 2:1-52).  I’m not defending the part that is of pagan origin, but if something is sinful because it has pagan roots, then all of us are in trouble.  The first day of the week is referred to as “Sunday.”  Sunday has pagan roots.  Does that mean our worship on Sunday is tainted because we are worshiping on a pagan named day?

Putting up a Christmas tree or passing out gifts is not found in the Bible.  But, it is part of our culture.  Is it possible for a Christian to observe things in his culture which are not described in the Bible?  The Jerusalem church, which provided membership for all 13 apostles, James, Jesus’ brother, and even his mother Mary, was zealous for the Law of Moses.  This included among other things, worship at the temple, keeping the Sabbath, and observing the Jewish holy festivals.  The small epistle embedded in Acts 15 relieved Gentile believers from the Law and its practices.  Despite the differences between the Gentile and Jewish brethren, Paul encourage them to respect the beliefs and practices of the other (Romans 14).  Isn’t Romans 14 just as applicable today as Romans 6?

December 25th isn’t the actual birth date of Jesus, as far as we know.  Yet, people the world over recognize on that day that he was born!  That’s the good part.  Isn’t it better to have the world recognize Jesus’ birth on one of 365 days rather than none?  Atheists, agnostics, and skeptics would rather it be none!  Will we join their ranks?

That They May Do it With Joy” (Hebrews 13:17).

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Do It With JoyWhen Paul wrote to Timothy he gave him the qualifications for a bishop or overseer.  The first one was, “He desires a good work.”  If you’ve ever served as a bishop, overseer, or elder you might think Paul should have said, “He desires a headache”!  Frustration is often the results of that cranial illness.

Paul gave two lists of qualifications, one to Timothy and the other to Titus (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9).  They are not identical although Paul wrote them about the same time. Titus’ list does not include “desires a good work” nor “not a novice.”  Timothy doesn’t include the expression “faithful children.”  Timothy’s list has three more than the one received by Titus.  Today we harmonized by putting both together.  Yet, when Paul wrote, neither Timothy nor Titus received a “P. S.,” saying “put your two list together to get the complete qualifications.”

Once a man is ordained as an elder, he may find himself doing more work as a deacon rather than as an overseer (1 Timothy 3:8-13).  Some become an elder because they have an agenda to put in place which either works or creates disappointment or a problem.  In an eldership some are leaders and some are followers.  Some learn that one elder does not make an eldership.  Sometimes preachers go to work with a congregation intent on “improving” or dismissing the eldership.  Some come and most go.  Some preachers serve as elders.  Some good, some not.  Some members believe an eldership will always make decisions which they like.  Some are ready to bolt when they don’t.

Since the Bible says “Whose faith follow . . .” (Hebrews 13:7) and “Obey them . . .” (Hebrews 13:17), some believe any rule given by the eldership comes straight from heaven.  Refuse to follow it and you are refusing to follow God!  If members rebel, an eldership is obligated to withdraw from them until they show repentance.  This seldom happens.  Disgruntled members simply leave to follow another eldership or create one of their own.

The “faith” an eldership follows, which all must “obey” is God’s word.  The headaches begin when there is more than one interpretation being offered on a subject.  There is also judgment involved in the best way to do something that is needed.  Not everyone is on the same page or using the same time schedule.  Some feel that “yesterday” wasn’t soon enough for a decision and action to take place.  If an eldership is thinking “tomorrow,” a conflict arises.  Sometimes a member may believe his judgment exceeds those of the men serving as elders.  He wants to dethrone an eldership and rule in their place.

Some decisions are matters of expediency meaning human opinion.  Elders are finite individuals and susceptible to mistakes like anyone else.  Sometimes they choose door number 1 when 3 would have been better.  Some decisions are based upon changing a tradition which some defend as a “thus saith the Lord.”  Paul told Titus to ordain men who would stop the mouths of some and rebuke them sharply (1:11, 13).  That’s not always easy and may produce unfavorable results.  However, sometimes muddy paths lead to higher ground.

Elders spend long hours making difficult decisions which some will not appreciate.  They spend hours in prayer for the membership and work of the congregation.  They give up their time with family to counsel with others and shepherd the flock (Acts 20:28).    This separates them from their spouse and family.  Elders are criticized, unappreciated, “under paid,” misunderstood, maligned, treated unfairly, and even condemned.  Yet, most serve with dignity, honesty, sincerity, lovingly, and devoutly.  Their love for the Lord may be questioned by a few, but it is demonstrated to the rest by the service they give!

Thank you elders!

WHICH TO JOIN?

Monday, April 24, 2017

And when he had come to Jerusalem he attempted to join the disciples; and they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple(Acts 9:26).

PerfectionBy the early 40’s Gentiles were being added to the saved (Acts 10:34-35).  When Paul, Barnabas, and company went on their first evangelistic tour, they converted both Jews and Gentiles (Acts 13:46).  By the sixties congregations were located around the Mediterranean Sea.  Even some in Caesar’s household were believers (Philippians 4:22).

House churches were common during those years (Acts 2:46; Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 16:19; Colossians 4:15; Philemon 1:2).  If you and I had lived in the first century and wanted to “place membership” (join a local body of believers), which one would you be comfortable with (Acts 9:26-27)?  Most would want to fellowship a “sound” congregation.  Why?  To do otherwise would question our faithfulness!  So, which first century assembly would we associate with to validate that soundness?  Sound saint + sound congregation = safe membership!

Some might be highly motivated to join with the disciples in Jerusalem?  After all, it was the “mother” church.  The apostles were members.  Mary, the mother of Jesus was a member.  Paul joined it (Acts 9:26).   If it was good enough for Paul, it ought to be good enough for us?  Yet, for the first ten years of their existence, uncircumcised Gentile were not welcomed unless they wanted to be made “Jewish.”  To visit in an uncircumcised Gentile’s home invited questions concerning one’s soundness (Acts 11:2-3).  Some contended that Gentile men could not be saved (be “real” Christians) until they submitted to “private” surgery (Acts 15:1-5).  An important church conference was convened in Jerusalem to discuss the matter.  However, not every member considered that forum’s decision to be scriptural (Acts 15:6-35; Galatians 1:6-9; 5:1-12).   Sometimes fear motivated hypocrisy even in those who were very sound in the faith (Galatians 2:11-12)!  The Jerusalem saints continued to be zealous for the Law of Moses and continued to observe that style of worship, including the apostle Paul (Acts 21:18-26).  When Paul was with Jewish saints or sinners, he became a Jew.  When with Gentile saints or sinners, he became a Gentile.  He became weak with those who were weak (1 Corinthians 9:19-23; Romans 14).  Would we be comfortable in a membership like that?  Would we question the soundness of their temple or synagogue visits or a continuation of their zeal for Jewish worship?

If we were in Corinth, would we join in their worship and work, or decide to stay  home until they got everything right?  After all, can such a problem ridden group actually be Christian?  Even if you joined, which denominational group would you be comfortable with (1 Corinthians 1:10-13)?  True, some claimed to be  “of Christ,” but claims can be far removed from reality.  Neither Apollos, Cephas, Paul, nor Christ supported division nor the problems all those groups were involved in.  Placing membership?  How can one be “sound” in an assembly that isn’t?

What if we resided in Sardis?  Would we be excited about joining a dead church or inviting our friends to worship with us (Revelation 3:1)?  What kind of worship is engaged in by a dead congregation?  What kind of “light” does it give off or influence does it have?  Maybe Ephesus would offer a better choice?  They were not “dead” like Sardis, they had only left their“first love” (Revelation 2:4)!  “Left their first love”?  What does THAT look like?  How “sound” is that?

With all the problems found in first century assemblies, if one had to be perfect to be sound, which congregation would God honor with that epitaph?  Which one would have all the ingredients necessary to make us comfortable in our worship with them?  Wouldn’t we be the only perfect/sound individual in the middle of an imperfect/unsound congregation?  If a member in any of those first century assemblies died before they reached our vision of perfection, wouldn’t they be eternally lost?  Wouldn’t we also be lost by worshiping and working with them?  If soundness equals perfection, then the only thing we would be successful in accomplishing would be total failure!  If perfection is required and it is our responsibility to possess it, no one from Acts 2 until today have succeeded in acquired it.  So, which one would you join?  Surely, in 1,900 years, someone has been successful in finding that perfect congregation?  Perhaps we should get our eyes off self and redirect them to the perfect Jesus!

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